1985-I’m 10, double figures, it’s a big deal. For my birthday I get pencils, paper, chalks, I’m ecstatic, I don’t get gifts except on birthdays and even at 10 I know I’m fortunate to have got anything at all. Another two years will pass before we are rehoused from our 2 bedroom council flat, with no carpets and all secondhand/donated furniture, no fridge and a 50p gas and electricity meter that often sticks. In the winter we have to wedge newspaper around the window frames to keep the cold out, there is often ice on the inside of the panes.
This is not a woe is me tale, this is not a sob story-this was just life back then. We were among the many millions of poor families living in Britain through the 70s and 80s. I don’t know if things were worse then, I’m not in that position any longer, I have a comfortable life comparatively, I don’t know from personal experience whether those who are equitably poor now experience those hardships but I am confident from what I’ve read and I’m told that they do. Certainly the systemic disabling of the welfare state is having that effect.
The parallels with our current state is clear, when Thatcher was in power there was an ethos of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” but without a support network or nurturing societal attitude to back it up, it was a case of cut back on what people have and let them fend for themselves. I can remember clearly when changes to housing benefit, income support and the introduction of the poll tax meant we found ourselves without food or heating for a period of time, crisis loans were applied for and took time. My family borrowed and begged for help. Looking back I always thought my mum was thin because she ran around after us kids, she was thin because she didn’t always eat so that we could.
What was true then is true now, the have not’s had less and the have more’s continued to flourish. The poor were demonised and the rich heralded as the champions we should all aspire to.
My feelings about Margaret Thatcher are mixed, I feel no sympathy or nostalgia for her or her time in power, it was a tough and painful time for most that I knew and the values she and her party espoused leave me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. But I didn’t know her, I just felt instinctively that she was bad, to be feared. But I did have a happy childhood, the memories of the summers as I grew up, the kids TV, they’re good memories, the people I was surrounded by made my childhood one I recall fondly. Is this government worse? I’m not sure it is, they’re all cut from the same cloth, it’s just we have further reaching communication tools to share the individual hardships and suffering. It was happening then, whole communities destroyed and left to rot. They say communities don’t exist any longer, so maybe the difference now is that it’s the individual that is left to rot and maybe that’s worse, you’re dying alone with no collective shared support. Surviving and dying alone.
I hear she cut a lonely figure in her final months, and many, many in our society are alone, they’re fighting a tide of change that is not designed for their betterment. That is her legacy. The individual not the society. What a truly tragic state to leave in your wake.